The first thing to say is that Leftism is emotional. The second is to say that the emotion is negative and the third thing to say is that the negative emotion (anger/hate/rage) is directed at the world about the Leftist, at the status quo if you like. The Leftist is nothing if he is not a critic, though usually a very poorly-informed critic. And the criticisms are both pervasive and deeply felt.
Orwell of course understood Leftism exceptionally well so it is revealing that in 1943 he wrote an essay called “Can Socialists Be Happy?” His answer is that they can’t even imagine it.
What is routinely overlooked in most discussions of ideology is that conservatives don’t like the status quo either — but they don’t hate it and they rarely get burned up about it. Ask almost any conservative and he will give you a long list of things he would like to see changed in the world about him. It is only a misleading Leftist caricature to say that conservatives support the status quo. And iconic conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were undoubtedly great agents of change.
So Left and Right do indeed differ in their response to the status quo but not in the simplistic “for and against” way that Leftists claim. The difference is in depth of feeling and in the changes desired. Leftists want change passionately and feel very righteous about the changes they want. Conservatives can see fault and conservative leaders do quite regularly work towards the changes that they and their voters think desirable — but most conservatives just want to get on with their own lives. The typical conservative does not simmer if his wishes for change are not implemented. The Leftist does.
I am not sure that there are ANY people who are completely happy with the world as it is (I know of none) but, if they exist, they are not concerned about politics. So how they vote has to be speculative. It would make some sense to claim that they vote conservative when called upon to vote — as they would not be able to find much in common with the constant complaint that is the mark of the Leftist — but on the other hand perhaps they simply vote for whatever seems fashionable or popular at the time: Many of the Obama voters of 2008, perhaps?
One marker of the difference just set out will be well known to anyone who reads blogs from both sides of the divide: Profanity is hugely more common on Leftist blogs. A systematic study of the matter found profanity to be TWELVE TIMES more common on Leftist blogs. Profanity is of course an attempt to express one’s feelings strongly.
Note that I do NOT use the word “liberal” for the Left side of politics. “Liberal” as a name for any left-leaning political party is just camouflage. Except in sex-related matters, liberty is in general a very low priority for them. And their attack on sexual mores arose only as a means of tearing down the status quo. Their advocacy of freedom of choice in sexual and reproductive matters soon breaks down if people make choices they disapprove of. The amazing attacks on Sarah Palin’s decision to bear a handicapped child rather than abort it certainly showed no respect for her choice in the matter. And far-Leftists such as Britain’s Harriet Harman make quite virulent attacks on prostitution under the guise that it “degrades women”. And fundamentalist Mormon polygamy has no friends on the Left (though Muslim polygamy is OK).
So what is conservatism? Basically it is caution based on a perception that the world is an unpredictable, dangerous and often hostile place. So change is not rejected. It is in fact, as just said, usually desired. But it is approached in a skeptical, step by step way to ensure that its effects are beneficial or at least benign. And an important criterion of what constitutes “benign” is how the change affects individual liberty. At a minimum, a conservative wants to ensure that change will not reduce his individual liberty.
Because the Leftist is angry rather than prudent, however, he cares not a bit for the conservative’s caution. The most thorough-going Leftist just wants to smash everything that exists around him out of the feeling that it is all so hateful that none of it is worth preserving. And in the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the Maoist revolution and many more minor revolutions, the Leftists got their way — with results we all know about. Doing any sort of a good job of putting back together what they have smashed is beyond them. They are destroyers only. Hate is not constructive.
Because we all know of those dismal results, Leftist activists and politicians in entrenched democracies have to be more careful. Expressing the full extent of their feelings and advocating revolution would simply marginalize them and they know that. So they have to find ways of undermining society in more subtle ways. And they are greatly aided in that by the complex nature of modern society. Most people have only the vaguest notion of how society works so the Leftist politician can propose various changes that sound good but which will be disastrous in practice — with “share and share alike” being the classic example of that. And when the disasters unfold the committed Leftist cannot lose. He will get an internal glow of satisfaction from the suffering and disruption unleashed on all those fools around him that he hates but will be excused from blame because he “meant well”.